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Porsche 959 History

Porsche 959 Performance

"With rocket-sled acceleration and the highest top speed we've ever measured, the 959 stands alone at the pinnacle of production-car performance," Car and Driver declared. "If that sounds like hyperbole, how does a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.6 seconds strike you? Or 100 mph from rest in just 8.8 seconds[?] The 959 devours the standing quarter-mile in twelve seconds flat [at] 116 mph." Top speed? With boring regularity, C/D and others matched the factory claim of no less than 195 mph. All this in the late 1980s!

Porsche 959
The Porsche 959's sequential turbocharger kept one blower dormant at low speed.

Perhaps more impressive, the Porsche 959 was as docile in town as any 911, at least as quiet, and so stable on the highway that 100 mph felt more like 60, even in driving rain. Cornering was a revelation.

As British writer Mel Nichols observed: "At different times, I lifted off when near maximum power, and all the car did was tighten its line neatly at the front. There was no way that tail -- so deadly in these circumstances in a [normal] 911 -- was going to come around. . . What I liked was the clarity and accessibility of the handling that went with it." A virtual absence of body roll helped mightily, as did the twin-turbo engine's smooth, seamless, relentless power delivery, though one scribe reported an "explosion" of thrust once the second blower cut in.

Life at the pinnacle can be difficult. Troubles with the drive system and brakes, and Porsche's insistence that this amazingly complex supercar be absolutely right, delayed initial 959 deliveries by over a year. Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, Ferry's youngest son, got the first one in April 1987, by which time it was clear that the run wouldn't be finished for another year still.

One reason was agonizingly slow assembly. Because the 959's construction was too involved for even Porsche's usual methods, a small shop was set up to build the cars virtually by hand from numerous custom-fabricated components.

Meantime, rich-and-famous folks everywhere scrambled to be among the few chosen for 959 ownership. Tennis star Boris Becker was refused (too young and inexperienced, Porsche said), but not tennis player Martina Navratilova, Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan, actor Don Johnson, and orchestra conductor Herbert von Karajan.

Having the money wasn't enough, however. To qualify, you had to be a Porsche owner and promise not to sell your 959 for at least six months. You also had to be willing to travel: Sales and service were handled only from the Stuttgart factory.

You were out of luck entirely if you lived in America and drove on public roads. Porsche reneged on a promise to certify 959s to U.S. standards, and a later plan to sell 26 as "racers" through driver/dealer Al Holbert was stymied by Holbert's death in 1988. So even the wealthiest and most influential Americans could only dream of owning this engineering marvel, the car that had won the grueling Paris-Dakar rally not once but twice (1984 and '86, in competition 961 trim).

Although exact production is hazy, 959 assemblies totaled about 230, including development prototypes and racing 961s. Needless to say, each was a blue-chip collectible even before it left the factory.

Though it might seem otherwise, the 959 was more than just an engineering exercise. As Nichols noted at the time, "[T]he good news is that...other Porsches will gain the 959's technology and degrees of its prowess." He was right. The all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 arrived just months after 959 production ended, and later 911 Turbos became 959s in all but name -- and price.

But the 959 was one-of-a-kind, and still is. It was one of those undeniably great cars that comes but once in a lifetime, and that's why it will always be revered.

Porsche 959
Total production of the Porsche 959 was about 230, including racing 961s.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356
Porsche 911
Porsche 914
Porsche 924, 944, 968
Porsche 928 Porsche 959
Porsche Boxster Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayman

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